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Post Mikhail Khodorkovsky
Created by John Eipper on 10/30/13 2:21 AM

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Mikhail Khodorkovsky (Boris Volodarsky, Austria, 10/30/13 2:21 am)

In response to Paul Levine's post of 26 October and JE's appeal for my comment, I would like to say the following.

A sufficiently objective Wikipedia article on Mr Khodorkovsky: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikhail_Khodorkovsky gives rather a full impression about his early life and career. From this account we see that Mr Khodorkovsky did not create Harry Potter and was not a founder of either Microsoft, Apple or Google (another Russian was). We also know that the Mona Lisa was not painted by Mr Khodorkovsky. In a very short time during the fundamental restructuring of Russia's industry and economy, with the help of his Young Communist League contacts and a small group of associates who had highly placed relatives in the Soviet Nomenklatura, Khodorkovsky became a wealthy businessman whose value was estimated at 19 billion US dollars. One does not challenge a company with such wealth, as noted by one WAISer in Adrian some days ago--was it Robert Gibbs speaking about BlackBerry? Khodorkovsky clearly decided that he was powerful enough to challenge the regime. What happened next was the regime's response.

While it is certainly not true that Khodorkovsky has blood on his hands, as President Putin alleged several times, he is not an angel, because an angel does not surround himself with Swiss accounts and offshore companies.

Far away from Lake Geneva and Joël Robuchon's gastronomic creations, ten years in prison may change any person. Anyway, to my mind the first part of the NYT op-ed "Ten Years a Prisoner" offers an accurate analysis of the political and economic situation in modern Russia. In the second part where the author of the article speculates about what's to be done to change this situation, Mr Khodorkovsky seems to have no clue. He has the right feeling that the young generation and the opposition must somehow be involved, and that the West should play a role, but he can't figure out how to put them together. "The regime continues to respond with force to the voices of independent opponents," Khodorkovsky writes, "but the opposition will achieve victory if it can turn each case around and put the regime on trial." He fails to explain how this should be done.

Whether after ten years in the Russian prison the former oligarch still has the ability to read English is hard to say. Therefore, our arguments here may or may not reach him. In case they do (and I hope the WAIS is powerful enough and will be even more powerful in the near future to reach Penal Colony No. 7 in Karelia, a nice lake republic on the border with Finland where Khodorkovsky is serving his sentence), my advice to the Karelian prisoner is to study the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Rose Revolution in Georgia.

Theoretically, of course, because one should not forget that the Kremlin already knows everything, and as far as I can see has undertaken active counter measures in the past few years. That will not help in the long run, but whether Mr Khodorkovsky will live to see the changes is difficult to predict.

JE comments: My thanks to Boris Volodarsky for his thoughts. I'm doubtful that Mr Khodorkovsky follows the discussions on WAIS, but more extraordinary things have happened in the past. A quick question I'm sure Boris can answer: do wealthy prisoners in Russian penal colonies have Internet access?  As a parallel curiosity, I wonder how Khodorkovsky transmitted his essay to the NYT.

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  • Mikhail Khodorkovsky (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 10/30/13 1:10 PM)

    Boris Volodarsky wrote on 30 October: "While it is certainly not true that [Mikhail] Khodorkovsky has blood on his hands..."

    I would certainly not use the word "certainly" in such a sentence. There is considerable controversy around the question of whether Khodorkovsky has blood on his hands or not. A lot of people were killed during the privatization of the Russian oil industry in the early 1990s--it was an exceptionally dirty business even by the standards of the time. Khodorkovsky was a robber baron in the full sense of the phrase, whose wealth was not acquired by honest market-oriented methods, but during the extremely ugly phase of smash-and-grab privatization which was going on in Russia at the time. Khodorkovsky did not build his vast empire; he privatized it. Most Russians would tell you that he stole it from the Russian people.

    In this Khodorkovsky was no different, no better, no worse, than any of the other first generation of so-called "oligarchs." The difference, as Boris pointed out, was that Khodorkovsky refused to accept the new reality when Putin came to power and started to run the country to some extent himself, and not on the orders of a cabal of oligarchs. Khodorkovsky, accustomed to giving orders to the previous president, refused to accept the new deal, and Putin took him down in a most cruel manner, making a pretty vivid example of him, lest anyone else be tempted. Putin, as we know, is also no angel, to say the least, but breaking the power of the oligarchs and creating real law and order was a real accomplishment, the main thing which created his initial popularity. So while many people object to the cruelty of Khodorkovsky's prosecution and imprisonment, hardly anyone here thinks that Khodorkovsky should have been allowed to continue doing what he was doing in the 1990s.

    That being said, Khodorkovsky's criticism of the Putin regime is largely correct, and now reflects the opinion of a growing number of Russians, perhaps a majority. I thought that Khodorkovsky's New York Times op-ed piece, recently reproduced on WAIS, was well done, even if it was probably not written by Khodorkovsky himself.

    JE comments:  A very balanced appraisal from Cameron Sawyer.  For those who missed Paul Levine's original post, here is the link to Khodorkovsky's essay:



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  • Internet in Russian Penal Colonies (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 10/31/13 3:31 AM)
    To answer JE's question of 30 October, Internet availability in Russia's penal colonies does not depend on one particular prisoner, whether rich or poor. In some colonies it is available, in others not, for various reasons. Because Khodorkovsky is such a prominent prisoner, he is certainly placed in a "good" colony where Internet should be available. Not in his cell, quite certainly, but in an Internet class or room. And he certainly has access which must be limited to "read only." I am not sure about the Western sites.

    To JE's second query, Khodorkovsky regularly meets his lawyers. The New York Times almost certainly asked him to comment because he has been in prison for 10 years and he turned 50 this year (26 June), so there was a good ground. He wrote his comment and the lawyers passed it over to the NYT Moscow Bureau. This way the regime shows that there is democracy and freedom of speech in Russia while there is none, as Khodorkovsky correctly notes in his op-ed.

    JE comments:  Many thanks.  So if Mr. Khodorkovsky is a "self-Googler" (and who isn't?), he may just stumble upon our discussion.

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